“Either we eradicate them, or they prey on us. There was never a choice.”
~ Arthur Carrington
“You managed to break out in just six days.”
My eyes followed the woman’s movements as she scribbled on her clipboard. Her hair brushed against her shoulders as she raised her head.
“Are you the mastermind?” Zach questioned sharply.
“Heavens, no. I’m only a researcher. The Second is the one with the hypnosis,” she replied with an easygoing smile. “I’ll have to keep you two here, though.”
Every time this woman named Mihaela spoke, I felt an indescribable churning that resembled a rapid heartbeat. I think I was nervous, but why? I must’ve faced her before, and she had to be a formidable foe.
While I spaced out, Zach promptly lowered his center of gravity. “I can kill you without breaking a sweat.”
Mihaela wasn’t shaken in the least. She coolly slid the pen back into her breast pocket, then clarified, “You won’t be facing me. I’m not an offensive type.”
Four people, presumably vampires, strode through the doors and lined up like soldiers.
“Four against two?” I asked.
“None of you can use your abilities, so it’s basically fair.” At that, Mihaela spun on her heels and pulled the door closed behind her. A series of clanking noises that followed told me that she lowered a heavy barricade over the doors on the outside, locking us in with four ferocious-looking vampires. They stared at Zach and me like hawks, eyes blazing silver, hot pink, tan, and navy. To get out of here, we had to defeat them.
“I can take them. You stay back,” Zach ordered.
My brain panicked, but my body seemed to disagree. As if muscle memory, my weight shifted from heel to toes, my pulse slowed, and my hand formed into a blade. At that moment, I knew I could defend myself and protect a friend. I just knew.
In a low voice, I overrode his command, “You take the two on the left. Don’t let the traps kill you.”
Before Zach could object, I sprang forward. The navy-eyed vampire zoomed-in in my vision as if I flew at her. My hand aimed at her chest, but she easily swerved to the side and faced my undefended back. I quickly chopped my left arm around my back and parried the strike she almost landed on me. I crashed back-first onto the ground, but there was no time to wince. The tan-eyed vampire’s claws were inches away from my face. I reacted as fast as I could and rolled to the side. His fingers bent in ungodly directions as they banged on the solid ground beside my head, but he didn’t even bat an eyelash. As soon as he locked his gaze on me again, his fingers healed and cracked themselves back into place.
On the other side, Zach also didn’t waste a second. He smoothly fended off the silver-eyed and pink-eyed vampires, sometimes sweep kicking in the air to maintain a desired fighting distance. I only had half a second to admire his battle techniques.
Oh my god. What do I do, what do I do, what do I do?
Relying mostly on dodging and parrying, I managed to stay unharmed, but I quickly realized I wasn’t the best fighter. Then why did I feel an adrenaline pump at the notion of battle? I must’ve experienced my fair share of brawls, right?
As I caught the navy-eyed vampire’s fist, the tan-eyed one found an opening and wrapped his hands around my neck. My feet soon levitated off the ground as he raised me by the throat, nails starting to dig into my flesh. I scratched his hands and wrists. Strings of blood dripped onto the ground, but he didn’t budge. When navy-eye’s hand drew back and aimed at my open abdomen, I finally remembered that I had legs. As her arm shot forward, I summoned every muscle in my right leg and kicked upward. I was too panicked to think to aim, but I got lucky. I struck the bottom of her elbow, hard, while her arm was tensed straight. With a loud crack, I witnessed the elbow bend in an ungodly direction.
In that second, tan-eye directed his focus to navy-eye. Taking advantage of his loosened grip, I pried his wrists outward and kicked him square in the jaw. And then I landed ungracefully on my bottom.
I speedily stood to my feet, but the two vampires weren’t crazily attacking anymore. Tan-eye stood in front of navy-eye, whose elbow showed no signs of healing. Upon our proximity, I suddenly noticed the hollowness of navy-eye’s cheeks.
“You’re starved,” I realized.
For the first time, navy-eye blinked. She shook her head, seemingly fighting against something. Before I could reassess the situation, tan-eye lunged at me at full speed. His hands crashed into my shoulders, pinning me on the ground. Hissing, he began to punch and strike without any pattern.
Although much less strategic, his attacks remained lethal. I couldn’t move my head in time and sustained a small cut on my left cheek. Strangely, as soon as that happened, tan-eye’s entire body flinched as if electrocuted.
Without having to parry against rapid attacks, I quickly brainstormed a way to escape from this position. I pushed my hips up, forcing him to fall forward, then grabbed his right arm. Twisting in opposite directions, my hands instantly tore apart his flesh. My right leg then came up and pushed against his left side, forcing him to topple over. With his right arm weak, I easily pulled it under and flipped him off me.
Something was up with these two vampires. They weren’t in their right minds. I turned to Zach, who had either of his arms wrapped around his opponents’ necks. Well, while I struggled to defend myself, he seemed to have won his battle.
“My gut has a weird feeling about these guys. Don’t kill them,” I said.
“I’d take care of my own problems first if I were you,” he countered.
I looked back. Navy-eye still stood in place, harshly twitching her head from time to time. Tan-eye staggered to his feet, holding his right arm that I maimed. His earlier healing speed was nowhere to be seen. His eyes locked on me, apparently still planning to attack. With raw force, I landed my door-smashing kick right in his stomach. He flew halfway across the room, denting the metal wall. I thought that that was definitely enough to knock him unconscious.
However, as soon as he fell on the floor, a machinery sound resonated throughout the room. By the time I saw the gun holes in the ceiling, I was too late to react. Some ten arrows shot out of them like a machine gun. In that split second, a figure flashed past me. My eyes bugged out in terror. The navy-eyed vampire who’d been standing like a statue now hovered over the tan-eyed vampire, shielding his unconscious body from the machine gun arrows.
But she was too late. Three arrows pierced through her back, all in her vitals, and the rest rooted deeply in his neck and chest. Several missed arrows either scattered or stuck in the ground around them.
Right then, I couldn’t breathe. The arrows, the noises, the blood, the smells, the scene. Everything about everything that laid before me hit all of my senses at once.
Pushing through her untreatable wounds, navy-eye tried to turn tan-eye’s face. Tears dropped from her eyes onto his cheek. My legs shook like jelly so violently that I couldn’t stand, so I shuffled and crawled toward them.
“We promised to survive this. Together,” she whispered. “I have no reason to live if you’re gone.”
When I staggered close enough, she noticed me. I didn’t know what kind of expression was on my face, but her gaze held no anger or resentment toward me.
“Please,” she started. “Please escape. They’re keeping all of us here. They think we and the traps here killed you both. Take that chance to leave.”
I had so many questions, but my mouth bobbed open and closed like a dumb fish.
Fortunately, she understood my silence. “You’re not a Pureblood, but your friend is. He’ll be able to use his power once you’re out of this place. Get out while you can, and don’t trust anyone you come across.”
At that, her body began to fade like an apparition. Her fingertips slowly turned to ashes, disappearing into the air. The tan-eyed vampire also started to disintegrate into cinders that grew smaller and smaller until it was like he had never existed.
I finally then found my voice, stammering, “What’s your name?”
Her tear-filled eyes glimmered. “Ivy Anderson. Thanks for asking.”
She pressed her lips on his cheek one last time. Only a few seconds after, the rest of them decayed into shimmering dust, dancing together in the air before quietly flowing away from this world. When my breath trembled, I realized that my face was wet. I hurriedly wiped my tears with my sleeve. How could I have the right to cry? I couldn’t begin to imagine what Ivy experienced.
I… killed them. I killed them. And even so, she told me to escape. She wanted me to live.
I could no longer hold in the soul-crushing scream that built up in my heart.
A hand softly pressed on my shoulder. It felt a bit unsure, and it was cold to the touch, but my breathing instantly calmed down. I inhaled and exhaled deeply, then turned to see Zach. His face was blank, and he didn’t utter a word, but I could see the storm in his eyes.
Minutes after, my mind was clear enough to think about our next steps. I was going to forever commit what happened today to memory. But to make any difference, I had to leave this place first.
“I didn’t kill these two, as you asked.” Zach gestured to the pink-eyed and silver-eyed vampires, both unconscious on the ground. “This room’s riddled with traps. I activated a bunch, too.”
I scanned the side of the room on which Zach fought. Spikes that reached my knees sprouted from the ground and puddles of what appeared to be liquid silver littered the room.
“I heard everything Ivy said. That, combined with what the lab coat woman said, I have a few theories.” Zach crossed his arms. “You and I are lucky. Our memories weren’t wiped. We were hypnotized into forgetting most of everything.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Erased memories are very hard to retrieve, but hypnotism just needs to be broken. The pain from seeing someone important die shocked Ivy to her senses, for instance. And I say we put up a hell of a fight against the hypnotist, who seems to be someone called the ‘Second,’ since we still have all of our base instincts. We could’ve been hypnotized into believing we’re insects or monkeys, but we weren’t.”
I slowly nodded. “I see. These four vampires were all hypnotized, and apparently there’s a lot of them like that.”
“Yes. Ivy said, ’They’re keeping all of us here,’ which brings me to my second theory. To use the word ‘us’ means she has a sense of belonging with this group, but she never once mentioned saving them. She told you to save yourself and didn’t mention bringing help to free the others.”
“She genuinely believes that it’s impossible to escape here. You and I have special circumstances since we’re supposed to be dead, but the others are shackled somehow,” I continued. “But it’s not just because of the hypnotist. She said she and that guy had a promise to survive here, and she knew there was a group of them, which means they weren’t always under hypnosis.”
Zach tilted his head in a side-cocked grin. “You’re significantly less useless than I thought.”
“Ivy called me a Pureblood and said I could use my power outside.” He gestured to the two unconscious vampires in the corner. “These four smelled the same as me, which means they’re all Purebloods, which means they had abilities. The lab coat woman said that none of us could use our abilities. I thought we were all injected with some drug that disabled our power, but Ivy’s words confirmed otherwise.”
“So your third theory is that something in this vicinity is locking vampire abilities.”
“Could it be a vampire ability? One that nullifies other abilities around them.”
“I was thinking of an advanced anti-vampire radiator, but your guess makes more sense.” Zach’s low chuckle sent me an inexplicable wave of joy.
I pretended not to be affected. “I’d also guess that the nullifier and hypnotist are the ‘they’ that Ivy kept referring to.”
“I think there’s more,” Zach suggested. “It takes more than two vampires to create such a place. Lab coat woman might be another victim to hypnotism, but she also could be one of the core colluders.”
I hummed in agreement. “Anything else?”
His playful air dropped, and he locked his gaze dead on mine. “What are you?”
“You’re definitely more than human, but you seem less than a vampire. You know how I locked those two Purebloods in a chokehold?”
“When your cheek was cut, they all froze for a couple of seconds. Even I did, but I reacted faster, so I caught them by surprise.” As he spoke, he was suddenly right in front of my face. “Your blood smells heavenly. It really reminds me of how hungry I am.”
Even this strange conversation had a string of deja vu attached to it. What kind of weird life did I have before this?
“It has been days since we ate anything,” I admitted, kicking the air for a moment. I pulled up my sleeve and extended my arm. Embarrassed, I averted my gaze.
“You’re letting me?”
“You really helped me calm down earlier. I’m just returning a favor.”
Zach didn’t need me to tell him twice. Grabbing my wrist, he yanked me to him. His pale blues stared into mine, giving a silent warning. One of his hands retained its grasp on my wrist while the other one guided my head to the side. Under his surprisingly gentle touch, my eyes slipped shut.
I couldn’t help but flinch when his fangs stabbed into the side of my neck, sending a tremor down my spine. I focused on my breathing to distract myself. Soon, Zach swallowed for the last time and drew back, licking his lips in satisfaction.
“Was that technically cannibalism?”
“Eh, vampires probably don’t give a fuck.”
The bite wound on my neck closed as we sped to the door. It was barricaded from the outside, and we couldn’t make a scene by busting it open.
“The doors open inward,” Zach pointed out. “So, the hinges are inside.”
“Ohhh.” I saw and proceeded to accurately roundhouse kick one of the hinges clean off.
Three more hinges later, the thick doors were balancing on nothing but its own base. All we had to do was tip it over and cushion it before it slammed on the ground.
“You ready? We don’t know what’s beyond here.”
“Two people with zero memories rush into enemy territory? What could possibly go wrong?” I smiled at him. “I’m ready when you are.”